The Dallas Cowboys begin their Phase III offseason workout program today, and that means OTAs. The OTAs are not just about position battles. They are about the first time this new group of 90 players will get together and the first time the rookies will get a glimpse of the routines they will be adapting to as they transition from a college player to an NFL player.
The coaches will begin installing the first phase of the formations, plays and sets that they expect the players to learn and then see how much and how fast they pick them up. Teams want smart guys that can process things fast and can understand concepts as well and these players will be scrutinized like never before.
But some of the things we as fans want to know is who will start and what the depth chart looks like as the season progresses. That depth chart will change as coaches begin to evaluate which players are "standing out" in the various drills like the 7-on-7 and the all 22's. With that in mind, here are the five things we need to learn during these OTAs.
The first position battle on the list is the left guard battle. Ron Leary is the incumbent but he'll be a restricted free agent next year and will be expecting to be able to showcase his talents and growth to get the big contract that he most assuredly wants. It is almost a foregone conclusion that La'el Collins will replace him, but it is not a done deal.
So, during the OTAs, we should all pay attention to where the Cowboys are lining up Collins and how many reps he gets at those positions because it will tell us how he is doing and where the Cowboys see him playing this year. Is he lining up with the first team or the second team? Is he lining up in Doug Free's place a lot or just for a few snaps.
There are rumors that the Cowboys might be willing to trade Leary for a running back.
"They've got two teams in mind, I believe," Broaddus mentioned during the Cowboys Break Show on Thursday. "No, I can’t go there yet. Trust me, they are looking at some guys right now…I don’t want to throw out a name or two…"
"Broaddus also mentioned the fact that current starting left guard Ronald Leary could very well be on the table in order to make a trade happen."
I don't think they will want to do that until they get a better feel for how all the running backs currently on the roster are shaping up because injuries do happen and having Leary as depth at the left guard spot is never a bad thing. Also, one downside of replacing Leary is the fact that the offensive line functions best when it has some continuity going for it and that means that once you have a good thing going, you should resist making changes. However, having said that, the Cowboys have said they will play the best five players. And that brings us to the next thing.
The next position battle is related to that rumored trade for a running back that Brian Broaddus has hinted at. But as many have suggested, including yours truly, the Cowboys are betting on Darren McFadden to be the starter and like many, McFadden being the starter has them worried.
An argument could be made that had the Cowboys re-signed DeMarco Murray, we might be talking about Murray's injury history and the almost 400 carries he had last year, so the running back position may be a position to watch for quite some time as we move forward in this new running game focused scheme.
Also, there are good arguments to be made that one of the other backs could emerge as the lead back which once again is a reason that the Cowboys may wait and see who might rise to the occasion before worrying about a trade.
Can Sean Lee make it through OTAs without getting injured? I think the Cowboys will be extra careful with his reps and we all know that last year he was practicing with a tear that probably contributed to his injury, so there is some reason for optimism this year. We will all be watching his rep count and holding our breath for sure.
Who will emerge as the replacement for Dwayne Harris? Earlier this month in the Dallas Morning News, Jon Machota quoted head coach Jason Garrett as he talked about the return guys:
"We like the guys we have and we feel like we can go play right now with them and also create some competition with some younger guys."
Garrett said Darren McFadden, who is currently the team’s No. 1 running back, could see some action in the return game. Other options could include Cole Beasley, Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar."
While Garrett may be thinking about using McFadden in the return game, if McFadden is their No. 1 running back as Machota says, then they need to rethink that option and look at some of the others. One guy is Lucky Whitehead who was electrifying in college and bulked up to 180 pounds in the offseason. He was told by the Cowboys that he was "wanted very much" and Whitehead feels he can be the return guy.
Others according to Rick Gosselin could be Lance Dunbar on kickoffs and J.J. Wilcox on punts. And our own Tom Ryle opined that in addition to Whitehead, George Farmer, Antwan Goodley, Deontay Greenberry and Nick Harwell could be in the mix for that job also.
Others like Cole Beasley and Devin Street could be considered as well.
Who will be the starting corners? The situation with Brandon Carr's over-valued contract has been well documented by many including me along with who will start in the slot.
Morris Claiborne's health and availability will be in the mix as well along with how Byron Jones fits into this. But like the offensive line, the coaches will start the best two when there isn't a slot receiver, and the best three when there is.
There are many more intriguing questions that need to be answered, but those are the top five that I am looking at. How about you, fellow BTB'ers, what answers might you be wondering about?